Pancreatic cancer is the 4th leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S. About 37,000new cases of pancreatic cancer are diagnosed each year in the United States.
Cancer of the pancreas is a disease that affects the pancreas and sometimes surrounding organs in the abdomen. It is occasionally curable, if found early.
This reference summary will help you understand what pancreatic cancer is and how you can reduce your chances of getting it.
Cancer and Its Causes
The body is made up of very small cells. Normal cells in the body grow and die in a controlled way. Sometimes cells keep dividing and growing without normal controls, causing an abnormal growth called a tumor.
If the tumor does not invade nearby tissues and body parts, it is called a benign tumor, or non-cancerous growth. Benign tumors are almost never life threatening. If the tumor invades and destroys nearby cells, it is called a malignant tumor, or cancer. Cancer can sometimes be life threatening.
Cancerous cells sometimes spread to different parts of the body through blood vessels and lymph channels. Lymph is a clear fluid produced by the body that drains waste from cells. It travels through special vessels and bean-shaped structures called lymph nodes.
Cancer treatments are used to kill or control abnormally growing cancerous cells.
Cancers in the body are given names, depending on where the cancer started.
Cancer that begins in the pancreas will always be called pancreatic cancer, even if it has spread to other places in the body.
Although doctors can locate where a cancer started, the cause of cancer in an individual patient cannot usually be identified. Cells contain hereditary, or genetic, materials called chromosomes. Chromosomes control the growth of cells. Cancer always arises from changes that occur in the chromosomes.
When the chromosomes in a cell become abnormal, the cell can lose the ability to control its growth. Sudden changes in genetic material can happen for a variety of reasons. These changes are sometimes inherited.
Changes in chromosomes may also occur as a result of exposure to infections, drugs, tobacco, chemicals, or other factors.
Pancreatic cancer is more common in men than women. People who smoke and eat high fat diets are at a higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer.
People who develop sugar diabetes in their 50’s and do not have a family history of diabetes must be checked for pancreatic cancer.
Most pancreatic cancer begins in the ducts that carry digestive juices. A rare type of pancreatic cancer can begin in the cells that produce insulin and other hormones.
These cells are called “islet cells” and the cancer is called “islet cell cancer”.
As pancreatic cancer grows, the cancer cells invade other tissues surrounding the pancreas, such as the stomach and small intestine. This is called metastasis.
When pancreatic cancer metastasizes, or invades other areas of the body, it tends to go to the lymph nodes of the abdomen and to the liver. Sometimes it also goes to the lungs and bones.
Signs & Symptoms
Unfortunately, pancreatic cancer tends to have very few early symptoms. As it grows, it can cause major abdominal and back pain. If a tumor is located close to the common bile duct, the duct can become blocked.
When the bile duct is blocked, bile can get backed up. Bile is a yellow substance that is secreted by the liver. If bile gets backed up, the skin will turn a yellow color; this is called jaundice.
The urine also becomes darker since there is more bile product in it. The stools become chalky white, because they do not contain any yellow bile. When bile gets backed up, the body may feel itchy all over.
If there is a possibility that a patient has pancreatic cancer, an abdominal CAT scan is usually done.
This allows the doctor to check the pancreas and the rest of the abdomen. A CAT scan helps to determine if there is a tumor in the pancreas.
It also helps the doctor to find out if the tumor has spread to other parts of the abdomen.
Pancreatic cancer will usually metastasize to the liver or lymph nodes first.
A biopsy may need to be done to determine if a tumor seen on a CAT scan is cancerous or not. To do a biopsy, a small piece of the tumor must be taken out and a pathologist looks at it under a microscope.
A biopsy is usually done using a small needle under CAT scan guidance. A biopsy can also be done using a scope that is passed through the mouth, to the stomach, and up the pancreatic duct to reach the tumor. Sometimes other biopsy methods can be used, such as open surgery. The doctor may recommend other radiologic tests to determine whether the cancer can be removed.
Cancer of the pancreas can be cured only when the disease is found early. However, since this disease is “silent”, most patients find out that they have cancer after it has spread and has become hard to control.
Even when treatment options cannot cure pancreatic cancer, treatment can control the pain and complications. Which treatment the doctor chooses depends on:
• The type and size of cancer
• The stage of the cancer and how far it has spread
• The patient’s age and health
• Other factors
The doctor may use only 1 or a combination of the following treatment plans:
• Radiation therapy
• Biological therapy
Pancreatic cancer can be very painful. However, recent medical advances have made it possible to control pain and make it bearable.
There are many ways to control pain. Narcotic medication, such as morphine, can be given by mouth. These and similar medications can also be given through an IV or through a patch, similar to nicotine patches used by smokers who are trying to quit smoking.
If none of these methods help, morphine can be given around the nerves in the spine using specialized pumps. There are also ways to numb or destroy the nerves that create pain in the area of the pancreas.
The gantry rotates 360 degrees around the patient to deliver treatment from different angles, allowing physicians to precisely target the tumor site. It is typically used to treat complex cases, such as those found in pediatric patients and hard-to-reach tumors in adult patients
Proton Therapy for Pancreatic Cancer.
Proton therapy can provide effective and precise doses of radiation.
The nature of pancreatic cancer, combined with the location of the pancreas and its proximity to other sensitive tissues, can make the disease challenging to treat. In most cases, surgery is the first method of treatment of pancreatic cancer to be considered.
However, in many cases surgery cannot be performed or is insufficient to control the disease. In such patients, proton therapy for pancreatic cancer treatment can be helpful as well as chemotherapy.
Even when it is possible to completely remove the adenocarcinoma with surgery, the chance of successful pancreatic cancer treatment is very low;
proton therapy for pancreatic cancer may be used after surgery to improve disease control, before surgery to shrink the pancreatic tumor, leading to more effective surgery, or in lieu of surgery. In most cases, chemotherapy is also considered.
The Difference Proton Therapy for Pancreatic Cancer Can Make
While some pancreatic cancers can be successfully treated with a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, traditional forms of radiation can sometimes prove problematic.
That's because the organs that surround the pancreas – including the small intestine, kidneys, spinal cord and stomach – cannot withstand high doses of radiation.
Thanks to the highly precise nature of proton therapy for pancreatic cancer, however, the radiation dose is concentrated at the site of the pancreatic cancer, sparing other healthy organs exposure to radiation, and decreasing the risk of side effects.
And, since higher doses of radiation can be delivered to the pancreas with a lower risk of damage to other organs, the chance of destroying the pancreatic cancer is potentially greater.
What to expect
Each patient’s therapy is precisely tailored to their needs. Patients and clinicians collaborate closely to create a personalized treatment plan. The number and length of treatments will vary, based on the cancer. How patients respond depends on many factors, including the types of breast cancer treatments they are receiving. Many people tolerate proton therapy well and continue to perform normal activities. However, individual responses vary.
Advantages of Proton Therapy for Brain Cancer
Although proton radiation treatment is relatively new, clinical trials for Pancreatic cancer have already shown excellent signs of disease control and minimal side effects compared with traditional forms of treatment.
Proton therapy also offers a number of other compelling benefits:
- Treatment is noninvasive and painless
- Proton therapy is effective for treating early stage breast cancer
- Treatment offers quicker recovery times with minimal side effects
- It is more accurate and precise than other kinds of radiation
- Treatment is provided in an outpatient setting
- Proton radiation has little to no impact on patient energy level